AVON PARK — Changes to the four-lane Sebring Parkway system in the next year or two, especially the roundabouts, may take some adjustment for motorists.
“This is going to be a learning curve,” said County Commissioner Don Elwell, partly in jest and partly not, given that one roundabout will have two lanes in the circle itself and another will handle four lanes of traffic with an apparent single-lane design.
At last week’s town hall meeting at South Florida State College, Elwell discussed three roundabouts planned for Sebring Parkway from Memorial Drive south to Highlands Regional Medical Center.
The first should be ready for traffic in about a month, said County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. and Road and Bridge Director Kyle Green. It will need to have a second layer of pavement and permanent lane striping before Sebring Parkway Phase 3 gets completed.
It’s only one lane wide and the only place where two lanes enter the circle are the westbound lanes from Phase 3. The right lane from the Parkway will allow motorists to go right and hardly touch the circle.
All other traffic will navigate the curve.
It’s not ready, though, and not having the Memorial Drive circle done yet has pushed the completion date for Phase 3 into the fall, as late as December.
The next one to be built after that is a two-lane “Sebring Roundabout” at the current 90-degree turn. Motorists will want to slow down and move carefully, Elwell said, even after having months to get used to it.
Like all roundabouts, incoming traffic must stop and wait for those on the circle.
Elwell pointed out motorists heading northbound will get in the right-hand lane and continue north. Northbound traffic planning to head west to U.S. 27 will need to get in the left lane and stay on the inside of the circle until they exit.
Motorists in the southbound right-hand lane will be able to go straight or turn right after stopping and waiting for traffic on the circle, Elwell said.
Eastbound traffic turning right (southbound) toward the downtown must get in the right lane to turn, Elwell said. “Life is easy.”
Eastbound traffic turning left to go north must get in the left hand lane, but he joked, they need to remember not to turn left but instead follow the roundabout’s counter-clockwise motion.
It’s safer than a stop light, he said: no T-bone accidents, but only sideswipe fender-benders.
Also, he said, it works when the power goes out, after a hurricane hits.
A resident at the town hall meeting asked about plans for an Emergency Medical Services station just off that roundabout.
Another resident asked if it could be a three-way stop.
“That would be nowhere near handling the traffic volume,” Howerton said.
When asked if semi-trailers would have trouble with it, Elwell said Phase 1 doesn’t see a lot of truck traffic.
Still another resident joked about needing an Emergency Medical Services station at that site.
Only after the first two roundabouts get built will the county open the 4.3-mile Phase 3, Howerton said. Asphalt is already down on that entire stretch.
The Phase 3 budget is still $11.92 million.
“I don’t think we will be over (budget),” Howerton said.
The third roundabout will go in on the northwest corner of the HRMC campus, directing visitor traffic in and out of the hospital without a traffic signal.
That will be part of Phase 2, which goes south from Youth Care Lane to U.S. 27. It’s actually two sections: Phase 2A from Youth Care Lane to DeSoto Road budgeted at $5.5 million, and Phase 2B from DeSoto Road to U.S. 27 budgeted at $4.86 million.
It’s waiting on plans from outside agencies before the county can ask for contractor bids, Howerton said. Once bid, it should take one or two years to finish, he said, and both phases will be built at once.
Phase 2B’s “Hospital Roundabout” would have a “pinwheel” configuration, with two lanes going through the circle but only one lane connecting the two halves on each side for traffic making turns.
Entering by the right lane will let motorists go straight. Entering from the left lane will allow motorists to make a turn to their left off the circle.
The design would direct those who are turning to go to the outside lanes as they complete their turns.
As always, incoming traffic must wait for vehicles on the circle.
Elwell joked that it’s good this roundabout is near a hospital, but again reminded people that a roundabout actually reduces traffic collisions and handles more traffic without a signal than stop signs can.
Finally, Elwell mentioned Phase 4: A planned but not budgeted two-lane spoke off the Sebring Roundabout that would go east to connect into Arbuckle Creek Road, north of the State Road 17 and Arbuckle Creek Road junction.
It was estimated to cost $3.66 million, and the county requested a $4.77 million grant in January, but no funding has been approved or awarded.
If built, Elwell said, that would promote truck traffic through the Sebring roundabout — at least from garbage trucks — because Arbuckle Creek Road leads to the county landfill.